Childhood Obesity

by Savitha C Muppala on Nov 13 2007 4:30 PM

‘Children are our most valuable natural resource’
- Herbert Hoover

Gone are the days when children were full of beans and fighting fit. Instead children as young as 5 or 6 years old are fighting fat! Watching Mr. Bean in action or Tom and Jerry in hyperactive states, or simply laughing at the antics of Laurel and Hardy, unmindful of the number of sedentary hours, is a short cut to obesity.

Today’s children are spoilt for choice when it comes to food – not good healthy food. The market is inundated with food laden with transfat that tickles the taste buds and also gets the fat cells ticking. Sugary drinks, ice creams, fast food and snacks have begun to threaten what was once the mainstay of most households – a healthy balanced diet. No wonder, the crease lines are getting deeper on parents’ countenance.

Millions of kids are bogged down by their own weight and associated illnesses. Their salad days are eaten up due to weight problems. While there are many ‘answers to obesity’, solutions to this burgeoning crisis exist within the four walls - HOME!

How Fat Wears Children Thin

In the recent times, diseases that were ‘Adults only’ have now become ‘Universal’, with special preference to children. The cause is no great mystery and we all know it -childhood obesity. Children are affected in every way due to such problems with their weight. Apart from physical problems, they also suffer many psychological problems. Hypertension, diabetes and cardiac problems have crossed the line of control claiming young victims.

An estimated 22 million children world wide below the age of five are overweight. According to a report published by the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, more than 50% of the children in North and South America are predicted to be overweight by 2020. The European Union is no better, where 38% of the children are slated to be in the danger zone of chronic diseases by 2020, if they do not check the obesity trend. In China, one among 5 children is expected to be overweight by 2010. Thousands of Indian children are bursting at the seams.

Warning Signs of Childhood Obesity

A child may portray tendency of weight gain in the early years. Generally child obesity raises its ugly head during the ages of 5 and 6 and also in the adolescent period.

The child may weigh higher than normal which should be a warning signal for parents to make necessary changes in diet and lifestyle.

The body mass index (BMI) calculation applicable for age groups is employed to ascertain the extent of body fat, which employs the measurement of child’s weight and height.

If the child has a body mass index greater than 95th percentile ((>30 kg/m2), obesity has struck. Children with BMIs between the 85th and 95th percentile carry an enhanced risk of being overweight.

Excess Brawn - Causes

The following conditions makes a child more predisposed to becoming obese-

• Obese Parents
• High Birth- Weight
• Growth spurt between ages 1-2
• Viewing above eight hours of Television in a week
• Less sleep at night

Often, obese children have bad eating habits, bordering on over consumption of food. Children being children are lured easily by well crafted advertisements for unhealthy food products. Thus, faulty eating pattern sets in. Children get obese primarily due to the imbalance between the calories consumed and calories expended.

Genetics also plays a crucial role; even if one parent is obese, the child carries a 50% risk of obesity. If both parents are obese, then the risk is pronounced to 80%.

Obesity can also be the result of certain medical conditions. Treatment of certain disorders with steroids or other drugs could increase obesity risk.

According to experts, nearly 10% of children who are overweight or bordering on obesity have low self esteem. Stressed out kids have different ways to beat the stress. Many find comfort in eating and tend to go overboard.

Finally, the environment has a significant association with child obesity.

In place of exercise, games and sports, entertainment for children, today, is defined by the number of channels watched on television and the number of tech savvy video games played. Warming their seats in gay abandon, and munching on snacks as an accompaniment, their bodies warm up to play host to many diseases.

The bane of modern living with most children enjoying the luxuries of car travel vis a vis a walk or a cycle ride to school , in the name of good parenting, is another cause of fat bodies and even heftier health problems.

Complications Due to Obesity

• Obese children find it difficult to carry their weight around. Their movements become more and more sluggish.

• Obese children carry an enhanced risk of heart disease. Many obese children also suffer hypertension, breathing problems and sleep disorders.

• Obesity is a leading cause of Child Diabetes.

• Obese children also suffer problems with their joints and muscles due to excess weight.

• These children also suffer from lack of confidence and very low self esteem

Raise Healthy Children – Three Magic Guidelines

Children are like clay in a potter’s hands. Parents are directly responsible for bad eating habits in children. The following pointers may help in raising healthy children.

1. Cut down consumption of fast food. Include whole grains, vegetables and fruits in the diet. Ensure a balanced diet.

2. Cut down Sugar consumption. The risk of obesity increases by 60% for every sugar drink consumed each day. Instead replace this with fresh fruit juice or whole fruit.

3. Sports, games and exercise - Physical activity or games for at least 40 minutes each day is extremely important for children. This helps them burn excess calories.

Peer pressure coupled with the lack of parental pressure to steer the child in the proper direction is an instant formula for child obesity. Children are keen observers and learn by imitation. At an impressionable age, parents are role models and must,therefore, watch their every step.

The cliché that ‘healthy parents raise healthy children’ is important to control the escalating trend in childhood obesity. Parents can lead by example. Learning about nutrition, healthy food and importance of exercise begins at home. Parents would do good to conduct a reality check and ascertain if they are in the right direction.